Another year of Anime Weekend Atlanta has passed. While you can certainly look forward to a “con-versations” episode coming from the rest of the group soon, I thought I would write about my personal experiences instead!
Date & Venue
Anime Weekend Atlanta took place over Halloween weekend this year, a significant change in timing from it’s usual late-September time slot. This change was made in response to Dragon Con changing their dates and AWA staff not wanting to run the convention too close to them. It was theorized that the convention taking place on Halloween would affect turn out, but it doesn’t seem like that happened whatsoever (in fact, it may have spurred more attendance). While official numbers haven’t been posted yet, it certainly felt like there was no shortage of attendees this year. Hallways, vendor halls, and panels were all chock full of folks, creating some sardine-like situations midday on Saturday. I heard more than one of my friends (some who have ran or currently run conventions) say that it seems that AWA might want to consider a bigger venue in the coming years. While I wouldn’t be opposed to that myself, the Renaissance Waverly is a gorgeous venue, even if it does have some teeny tiny panel rooms. More on that later.
I gotta say that personally, the guest line up this year didn’t much appeal to me. There were a handful anime dub voice actors, including Tiffany Grant and David Wald, but it was largely lax on folks I was really interested in seeing. I mean no disrespect to fans of this series, but I’m not really sure why the cast & crew of Netflix’s Original Animated Series The Dragon Prince got top billing at an anime con (I said the same thing last year about the glut of Overwatch VA’s). I’d rather see this kind of energy put towards elevating an anime series rather than a western cartoon. It is an anime convention after all!
Naturally my favorite guest experience was from a Japanese guest. I attended two panels from Hirokatsu Kihara, an actor, director, and former production coordinator at Studio Ghibli. He worked on at least three of their biggest hits, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service (he even brought along his Miyazaki mask, made by Miyazaki himself!). The first panel I went to was his lecture on ghost stories, which was perfect for Halloween weekend (he even wore his Gegege no Kitaro vest). The second panel I saw was more Ghibli focused where he showed off an unbelievable collection of production art, cels, and concept drawings, some that never see the light of day outside his lectures. He was an immensely entertaining speaker, storyteller, and generally fun guy. I’d highly recommend seeking him out if he comes to a convention near you.
The Super Happy Fun Sell starts the convention off right. It’s basically a flea market where you can buy, sell, and trade your old anime/video game/fandom crap and make some money to spend throughout the weekend (or just blow immediately at someone else’s SHFS booth). Our friend Will (@swooshbear) was the only one of us to score a table, so we all teamed up and sold at one big mega table! There were tons of great sellers this year and I made out like a bandit.
The Fate/Grand Order U.S.A. tour was featured heavily this year, with giveaways galore, a hugely elaborate dealer’s room display, and a fun character-themed scavenger hunt to win free stickers. Tori and I spent our Sunday collecting stamps from around the convention. Even thought I’m not much into Fate beyond it’s mainline iterations (mostly just Fate/Zero), this was a lot of fun! I’d love to see more conventions do things like this!
One major point of confusion for me this weekend is that apparently Eleven Arts was screening both The Wonderland and the Sound! Euphonium movie and AWA never posted about it?! What gives! We did pop in on the screening of the Takarazuka performance of Thunderbolt Fantasy which I hate we couldn’t see all of. It was pretty incredible.
AWA really leaned into musical guests this year. Apparently Starmarie had to cancel at the last minute, but Myth & Roid, Brian the Sun, i☆Ris, and others performed. I popped in to see i☆Ris for a couple songs and they knocked down the house! The best thing about AWA’s main events hall is that it is so massive that it almost never fills up. More than likely, if you’re going to a concert that doesn’t require an additional ticket purchase, there will be more than enough seats for you.
Cosplay isn’t really my area of expertise, but I will say that by far the most popular anime cosplayed was Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. For about every 10 cosplayers, one of them was Nezuko or Tanjiro. There was also a plethora of My Hero Academia, Persona 5, Pokemon, Fate, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. All in all, the cosplays were really diverse, which is great.
We wish we had gotten more panel slots throughout the weekend, but considering our crowd turnouts were consistently good (even during our crappy time slots), we can’t really complain. What we can complain about is why does AWA schedule panels at all hours of the day and night? I understand them being a 24 hour convention and offering, I don’t know, screening rooms or something, but who is going to go to a panel about How to Run a Panel at 5:00 a.m.?! Yes this really happened! I don’t understand it.
Anyway, Tori and I performed “Disney and Japan” and “Excellence in the Ordinary: Celebrating Kyoto Animation.” Both audiences were excellent, and both panels were put in the Waverly room which seemed to work out just fine. However, our “Anime-versary: To the 9’s” ensemble panel was stuck in a super small room, which is wild considering the content of that panel is pretty general interest. There has been discourse for some time about panels that draw a big crowd being shoved into small panel rooms, and maybe a venue change would fix this? Maybe some logistical shuffling? Maybe just accepting less content? Who is to say.
In terms of non-TIA content, I got to see the following fan panels:
- Thirty Years Ago: Anime in 1989 – Daryl Surat
- Daryl’s yearly tradition of exploring the anime of 30 years ago. Both 1988 and 1989 were big years for anime so seeing him do this panel the past two years has been a treat. He always segues into each show cleverly and curates a great collection of scenes to appease fans and hook new folks in.
- Anime Hell – Dave Merrill
- The original, the insane, Anime Hell! I didn’t stay for all of it, but Hell was Hell in all it’s Hellyness. Great clips of the best in weird anime nonsense, but really the best part was getting to see some of the old convention videos made in the early days of AWA (“NO MAGIC”).
- Anime Foodies: Izakaya Grub – NoS Anime
- NoS continues on their cooking crusade! This panel focused on showcasing a variety of izakaya cuisine in different anime, then going through the step by step process of making it for yourself. I always love how NoS provides their own process pictures and narrates the panel expertly. Always good stuff from them.
- Manga: One and Dones (For Book Buying on a Budget) – Basil Berchekas
- This panel both vindicated me and brought me new insights, so a double win! Basil and Anna curated some awesome manga that are single-volume releases that you read and are DONE with. Great for saving money and shelf space. I already have or have read some of the ones on his list, but I’ll definitely be checking out…. some of them. I forgot which ones. I’ll ask Basil later.
Unfortunately there were plenty of panels I didn’t get to see but hey, hopefully next year!
Considering the date change, the strange focus on guests, the influx of industry sponsorships, and the crowd sizes beginning to be an issue, we might be entering into a transitional period for Anime Weekend Atlanta. I’m hopeful for the future though, because I’d rather a convention change it up every now and again than do the same thing year after year. Not all changes are good, but sometimes you have to go for it anyway and see what you learn. I’ll definitely be returning to AWA next year and can’t wait to see everyone again.